HACKENSACK, N.J. (PIX11) — Five workers at a Hackensack mall are recovering after suffering an apparent fentanyl overdose Wednesday, leaving four of them hospitalized, officials said.
Police and firefighters answering an emergency call at 5:30 Wednesday evening found the workers, all women between the ages of 29 and 41, unresponsive at the Shops at Riverside mall, according to authorities.
Capt. Michael Antista, the commanding officer of the units that responded Wednesday evening, described the scene at a news conference on Thursday afternoon.
Antista said that when first responders arrived, they “observed civilians performing lifesaving measures, including CPR, on at least two of the victims.”
Hackensack police officers and firefighters stepped in immediately and administered Narcan and performed CPR further, reviving all five of the women, according to Antista.
They rushed four of the women to Hackensack University Medical Center, the main trauma center in the area, while the fifth woman declined further treatment, Capt. Antista said.
Hackensack Police Director Ray Guidetti was also at the news conference. He said that it appeared the women ingested the opioid fentanyl and became unresponsive.
He said that the situation is dire.
“It’s more about poisoning,” Guidetti said. “A lot of the folks that are victims of this don’t know what they’re taking. It may well be illicit drugs, or it may be something else, and even if it’s the illicit drugs, they have no idea they may be taking fentanyl.”
Police said that they’re still investigating how the women ingested the deadly substance. Investigators also said that evidence of another substance, which the fentanyl may have been cut into, was also found at the scene.
How the women came into contact with the substance in the first place is also under investigation, police said.
David Gerber, the founder and CEO of Sober At Home, one of a variety of drug addiction treatment programs he’s led for over 30 years, said that the mass overdose episode is a disturbing reminder of a larger danger.
“Fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin,” Gerber said in an interview. “It’s now laced in all drugs for recreational use, from marijuana to cocaine to ecstasy. It’s everywhere.”
The commander of the unit that responded to the overdose emergency said that his officers know that truth all too well.
“Unfortunately, this is not something that officers haven’t been to before,” Antista said, “and we are equipped with Narcan, and we know how to use it,” referring to the substance that can reverse the effect or an opioid overdose.
“They did what they were taught to do,” he continued, “and they saved a life, along with these civilians that were on scene.”
Antista and Guidetti said that charges might be forthcoming in the case.
The tri-state area has hardly been immune from the national opioid epidemic, with fentanyl involved in 80% of New York City overdose deaths in 2021, the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said earlier this year.